Countries increase biomass subsidies despite COP27 commitment

Clearcutting for biomass in Pärnu County, Estonia (C) Karl Adami

At COP27 this week, countries – including the EU and the UK – launched the Partnership forests and climate leaders halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

However, a report released today by Trinomics for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reveals that at the same time, these countries are giving more money than ever to bioenergythat cuts down our planet’s precious forests and burns them to generate electricity.

Indeed, while some countries in Europe, including the UK, have classified bioenergy as ‘renewable’ based on the idea that trees grow back – and are increasingly relying on it to achieve net zero goals – it’s actually one of the dirtiest forms of energy there is. It is destroying wildlife-rich forests around the world (including WE, Canada, Romaniaand Estonia); releases the carbon that trees have absorbed during their lifetime; and prevents trees from sequestering carbon during the relevant period to combat the climate catastrophe, worsening climate change. In Europe, biomass harvesting has been identified as a key factor in the loss of the forest carbon sink. Bioenergy too harms vulnerable communities of color in the southeastern United States.

Here are 3 takeaways from the report:

  1. Countries step up bioenergy efforts, despite growing evidence of its risks – This report shows that many governments are stepping up their efforts on bioenergy and putting it at the heart of their plans to fight climate change, despite its many risks for people and the planet. The 10 European countries analyzed spent more than €6.3 billion on bioenergy subsidies in 2021, more than any previous year and an increase of nearly 33% on 2015. The report found that the Kingdom UK remains Europe’s biggest bioenergy subsidizer, spending €2.1bn in 2020, mostly on Drax Power Station, the UK’s No.1 polluter. Germany was close behind, spending €1.7 billion in 2020. And the Netherlands took third place, with €856 million in bioenergy subsidies, nearly tripling their subsidies since 2015.

Country

Bioenergy subsidy 2015 (million euros)

Bioenergy subsidy 2021 (million euros)

UK

1,269

2,159

Germany

1,672

1,724

Netherlands

288

856

France

375

725

Spain

401

496

Poland

251

166

Denmark

55

108

Austria

270

104

Finland

69

15

Sweden

ten

3

  1. The public is paying a growing bill for bogus renewable energy that’s harming our planet – As European countries increase bioenergy subsidies – often significantly – bill payers will pay bigger and bigger bills. This is because these subsidies are paid for either by government money (i.e. taxes) or by a surcharge on people’s energy bills. Either way, the public is footing the bill for an industry that claims to be green as it hacks the world’s forests and then burns them down. And there is no end to these costs in sight. Since the biggest cost of bioenergy is the fuel it buys (ie wood pellets), subsidies will not help to make bioenergy financially independent in the long term. Indeed, bioenergy is unlikely to be cheap enough to survive without the lifeline of subsidies. This is very different from wind and solar, which are now so cheap in countries like the UK that they are almost unsubsidised.
  1. These grants could be spent on technologies that WILL REDUCE people’s energy bills AND reduce emissions – This money would be much better spent on technologies that are constantly falling in price, help people reduce their energy bills and actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If the UK agrees to fund the installation of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) system at Drax power station, the subsidies to be paid could add £3.8bn to energy bills owners over 15 years. If that money was spent on home insulation instead, it could insulate over 2.5 million homes in the UK, ultimately making them more efficient and saving them money by lowering their energy bills. It would also reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1million tonnes per year. And homeowners would begin to recoup their investment after up to four years, as better-insulated homes have lower energy bills. Similarly, in the Netherlands, redirecting €856.5 million of existing biomass subsidies could insulate around 3.2 million homes, or a quarter of all households in the country (assuming a €30 subsidy). %, as currently in place via ISED). The energy saved through insulation could save households €132 per year and reduce the Netherlands’ total emissions by around 1 million tonnes.

The bottom line is that commitments made by the EU, UK and others to increased forest protection at COP27 mean nothing if they continue to rely on bioenergy to meet net zero targets. .

Forests are our best defense against climate change, absorbing a third of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions each year. To continue to cut them in a misguided attempt to cut emissions is madness at its best. It is compounded by hard-working families paying the price. And the realization that that money could instead be spent on technology that would actually lower energy bills and reduce emissions makes it all sound like a cruel joke.

As the world’s leading scientists have declared, now is the time for “transformative change” – not the status quo. European countries must stop giving in to industry and instead spend their citizens’ money on efforts that will actually reduce climate change. The good news is that we have technologies that will do just that at our fingertips. It’s time to use them.

About Madeline Dennis

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